Tuesday, 27 August 2013

How are you? I AM HAPPY!

Get ready to run...
Teaching English as a foreign language to the girls in Cambodia was an experience.  They speak, read and write in Khmer; different language, different alphabet, different sounds... and we had more success with some things than we did with others.

They all mastered 'Hello' pretty quickly and as we arrived each morning and afternoon for lessons, all the girls would run along calling Hello to us, grinning and waving and proud of themselves.  It made us grin too :D

We called them lessons, but the sessions we ran with the girls were a series of games, crafts, making a lot of noise and being silly.  And learning sort of happened accidently on the way. We kicked off every session with greetings and performed ever more exaggerated versions of the following conversation.

Hello, my name is Kirsty [Frantic waving and pointed at self]
Hello, my name is Libby. [Ditto]
How are you? [Pointing at friend and raising eyebrows and shoulders in dramatic enquiry]
I am happy! How are you? [Freakish bearing of teeth in grin, pointing at face, thumbs up]
I am sad. [Yanking down corners of mouth, slumped shoulders, thumbs down and tearful tone of voice]
Goodbye. [Frantic waving and walking away]
Goodbye. [Ditto]

You have to remember that when I say we performed this conversation, I mean performed. And this was all fine, they got the hang of it really well and we added our ages and favourite colours into the mix as we got better at conversation.  But the bit that never seemed to catch on was the 'How are you?' section.

How are you?
At first, it seemed that no matter how many times we practised 'How are you?' the girls would neglect to answer the question and simply repeat back 'How are you?'.  Which leaves you wanting to say 'Aha! I asked you first!' but that seems a bit mean someone when faced with a seven year old with large puppy-dog eyes who's struggling to master a foreign language.  So we persevered.  Some of us more than others.

There was a memorable morning when demonstrating and recapping the previous day's vocab with the team, I asked them 'HOW ARE YOU?' clearly in precise, ringing tones so that all the girls could hear.  And all but one of my team just repeated me. They're supposed to speak English already; that's what qualifies us to be here!!!

Fortunately, Heather came to the rescue, and she volunteered that she was happy.  And asked me how I was.  Great.  I am happy.  At least, I am now. And so we returned to conducting little role plays with the girls, asking them their names and how they were and so on. And slowly but surely, we got to the point where they could all respond to the question 'How are you'.

And they were happy.  Every last one of them was happy.  And no matter how many times we tried to get them to rehearse 'I am sad' they just wouldn't say it.  They'd do their part in the conversation, repeat along with us and then in the last instant, change 'I am sad' to 'I AM HAPPY!' It was a little frustrating.  How are they going to learn if they won't ever say it?

But on the other hand, 'I am happy' is a lovely response to get to the questions 'How are you?'.  Much better than the standard 'Fine' we tend to say from day to day.  And I think the girls genuinely were happy.  So maybe we shouldn't complain after all.  And for the whole trip whenever anyone asked us how we were or we asked each other, the team would share a grin and respond as one:


Kisses xxx

P.S. I'm in the process of scrapping this - fingers crossed I finish tonight so I can pop the accompanying page here too :D


  1. Interesting. I remember having almost exactly the same issue in my first EFL class (I've been teaching EFL?ESOL for 20 years now) They wouldn't ask the questions only answer them. I also remember how proud I felt when I had the idea of using a puppet who hadto ask questions. They all made sock puppets - breakthrough

  2. What lovely photos; such colour! I love the fact that every single one of them was happy every morning - what an amazing experience you have had.